Please Excuse Me While I Dust Off My Soul
So I’ve been quiet. Really, really quiet. But never judge a book by it’s cover: I’ve had a Category 5 Hurricane raging in my mind and soul.
Let me start at the beginning.
I was raised by extraordinarily hard working, proud parents. I was fortunate enough to be shaped by their morals and standards, centered on accountability, sacrifice and service to others. My dad and stepdad both belonged to the Silent Generation, known for focusing on their careers and conforming with social norms. My mom, just a few years younger, was on the cusp of the Baby Boomers, who are defined by self-discipline and self sufficiency and questioning traditional values.
At the age of 43, I’m a member of Generation X — we’re the latchkey, MTV-era kids — and a mashup of my parents’ and my own values. I like to think I have the best of all three — savvy, skeptical, self-reliant, competitive yet kind. When the going gets tough, I get going. I don’t complain. I don’t give up. I want to help others.
But what could be one of my greatest assets — rarely thinking of myself — is also one of my biggest liabilities. I actually feel guilty placing myself in front of others and taking time for myself. And the inevitable turn of events always comes home to roost: I exhaust myself. I’m overwhelmed by all that I must do and I have none of the energy left to even get out of bed.
I’m struggling mightily right now. The constant battle to maintain my mobility nearly broke me in 2016. It has left me damaged and crippled mentally. I am literally stuck. I hit bottom in early December. Like a spent fall leaf floating to the forest floor, my heavy spirit drifted to the depths of my valley as the holidays approached. I became the little engine that couldn’t. It’s an odd place for me — a spot where I’m not comfortable.
You would think by now that I would have figured this out. I have a lot of experience with this particular challenge, yet I never seem to navigate it any better than the last time. I know how to focus on a goal, be accountable, be adaptable and, at all costs, never give up. I apply this mentality to all kinds of other challenges, large and small, with great success. And my mobility is no exception. So why, after a decade, can I not conquer life as an amputee?
Maybe it’s because my limb and body have never been the same two days in a row. My cancer is in my hip and pelvis, right where my prosthetic leg rests. My tumor is wrapped around my sciatic nerve — it’s literally an awkward shim impeding the natural swing of my leg. My range of motion is restricted, my gait is affected and the size and shape of my residual limb changes regularly.
None of these things promote a prosthetic leg that feels regular, is wearable and is (relatively) easy to use. So the first and easiest thing I want to do is just not wear it, every day. But then my leg swells up, my muscles atrophy and I take giant steps backward in my mobility. So, even when the going gets tough, I. CAN. NOT. STOP. There is literally no time for resting. NONE.
And then times like December happen. I run out of energy. I enter survival mode in its purest form. I live day by day, minute by minute. Anything more and I am too overwhelmed. The Silent Generation values within scream at me to keep my chin up, don’t complain and be grateful. If you don’t have something nice to say then don’t say it all. Even to yourself. So I stopped talking. I stopped blogging. I stopped everything but what was literally necessary to survive. I knew I would have to leave to return to Florida in early January to work on my leg and I would need everything I had to get myself there.
So I finally did what I normally don’t do. I thought of me. I started therapy again for my PTSD. I cannot manage this alone, nor do I want to any longer. I’m tired of just talking about it, so I am going to try a new technique, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). We will see if I can crack the fear factor once and for all.
I took a break from blogging to get my shit together. Just the thought of writing something in December was so overwhelming and induced such anxiety that I finally gave myself a pass. That’s right — I allowed myself to be human. I allowed my soul the break that I freely give to everyone else every single day. And even though all of my Silent Generation values were screaming at me for being selfish, my Gen X self – perhaps on the cusp of a Millennial moment – found a wee bit of entitlement in there somewhere. I dug deep to find it, then hung up my “Please Excuse the Dust While I Renovate” sign.
And then I did just that. I renovated my soul. I took some time to reflect upon my strengths as well as my doubts and fears and what’s holding me back. Strength training is not necessarily always physical, it turns out. So as I looked down the barrel of another solo Florida trip, I remembered how terrified I was to go by myself just a few months ago. But now I can see the mental strength that I’m gaining from making these cross-country journeys and I wouldn’t have it any other way. These challenges are opportunities to find a way to persevere – even without the tangible support of my network.
It’s incredibly empowering, and yet still difficult. So I just keep chanting my mantra, Opportunities not obstacles; opportunities not obstacles, Dana. Every mental and physical step I take is one step closer to my ultimate goal of 26.2 miles. Every moment of every day is an opportunity to make my marathon dream come true. If you think about it that way, then every moment of every day is an opportunity for something. It’s up to us to be present enough to witness the magic and then… Carpe Diem!
Photo at top: A beautiful sunset in Manzanita, Oregon.